Interesting piece from Bob Nightengale of USA Today about Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto, who don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on the importance of on-base percentage. While Votto has taken criticism for valuing his on-base skills, he continues to defend his approach at the plate. Meanwhile, Phillips is doing the same thing, except from the opposite end of the spectrum. Check it out:
“I don’t do that MLB Network on-base percentage (stuff),” Phillips told USA TODAY Sports. “I think that’s messing up baseball. I think people now are just worried about getting paid, and worrying about on-base percentage, instead of just winning the game.
“That’s the new thing now. I feel like all of these stats and all of these geeks upstairs, they’re messing up baseball, they’re just changing the game. It’s all about on-base percentage. If you don’t get on base, then you suck. That’s basically what they’re saying. People don’t care about RBI or scoring runs, it’s all about getting on base.
“Why we changing the game after all of this time? If we all just took our walks, nobody would be scoring runs. Nobody would be driving anybody in or getting anybody over. How you going to play the game like that. People don’t look at doing the things the right way, and doing things to help your team win.
“I remember back in the day you hit .230, you suck. Nowadays, you hit .230, with a .400 on-base percentage, you’re one of the best players in the game. That’s amazing. I’ve never seen (stuff) like that. Times have changed. It’s totally different now.
Does this sound a little crazy? Of course. I got a little chuckle out of the line about MLB Network inventing on-base percentage. That was the first I’ve heard of it. Anyway, we don’t need to point out the obvious about on-base percentage and what it means for run production. Players don’t just reach first base on a walk and disappear into oblivion. If Phillips drives in 100 runs this season, Votto will be a big reason for it. It’s easy to gang up on what Phillips is saying here, as we have seen on Twitter throughout the evening. However, as our own Craig Calcaterra wrote about Jeff Samardzija exactly one month ago, does it really matter if a player understands or values sabermetrics?
Votto has embraced sabermetrics and that can have its advantages, but it’s not essential for a player to do so. There are analytics departments for that and coaching staffs to communicate information to players in an accessible way. We would have a problem here if Phillips said he purposely makes outs rather than draw a walk. He’s not saying that. However, he feels that he gets paid to swing the bat and drive in runs. That’s his approach and how he justifies his place in the lineup. It’s worked for him in the past, but his deficiencies are standing out a bit more now that he’s seemingly past his peak and moving into his mid-30s. And now he looks stubborn as he tries to defend something that has worked for him in the past. It’s probably frustrating. And from that prism, you can understand him getting extra defensive when he gets asked about on-base percentage, even if he’s wrong. It would be more alarming to hear this kind of talk from a general manager or front office executive as opposed to a player. Fortunately, Phillips is not in that position. He’s just a player with an opinion.